Culture Rover

#152 - These Little Town Blues

A New York Times article, "In Surge in Manhattan Toddlers, Rich White Families Lead Way" (23 March 2007), explained that since 2000, the number of children under five living in New York City has increased by thirty-two percent and that for the first time since the 1960s the majority of these children are white. They are growing up in families whose median income is $284, 208 (!). Compare to the median incomes of other Manhattan ethnicities with toddlers: $66,213 for Asians, $31,171 for blacks, and $25,467 for Hispanics.

In other words, as reporter Sam Roberts explains, "What those findings imply, demographers say, is not only that the socioeconomic gap between Manhattan and the other boroughs is widening, but also that the population of Manhattan, in some ways, is beginning to look more like the suburbs -- or what they used to look like -- than like the rest of the city."

In the early 1990s, when New York City's long decline into bankruptcy, crime, drug wars, white flight, and countless other problems began to ebb, it seemed like the return of young middle-class whites to the city promised to restore a balance to the Big Apple. Of course, the "no broken windows" police policies of the Dinkins and Giuliani administrations involved a lot of broken heads (and more than that, the nasty intimidation of working-class, non-white New Yorkers). But in their wake, a sense that the civil society of Manhattan might recover some of its better qualities also emerged for all, regardless of ethnicity or class. One almost believed that some kind of combination of middle-class stability and urban grittiness could perhaps benefit everyone. The influx of tax dollars alone might help fund social services for poorer New Yorkers, for instance.

But now the picture is growing more clear. Rich whites are moving into Manhattan, transforming it into the new Cos Cob. Meanwhile, poor, working-class, and even middle-class families, many of them consisting of people of color, are being displaced to the boroughs and inner ring of suburbs. Indeed, even middle-class whites can no longer afford to live in Manhattan: teachers and clerks, for sure, and even doctors can barely afford Manhattan. Can an island consist of financial workers alone?

The demographic shifts since 2000 were not the realization of the 1990s vision of a new New York City. Rather than a transformation of the racial and class divisions involved in the urban-suburban dynamic, things have merely flip-flopped. The city is becoming a Cheeverian suburb while the suburbs are becoming the New Jack City.

09 May 2007

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